Terms like “balanced”, “moderation”, and “middle path” are often associated with the ideal of Islam. Muslims are meant to be a ‘middle nation’ between extremes, yet in today’s times, with increasing fragmentation among the ummah and different groups taking their views as the only ‘correct’ way – it’s hard to see how this balance is practiced.
Added to that, we live in an increasingly Islamophobic world, where politics, terrorism, and ideological warfare can so easily distract Muslims from actually understanding what Islam is, and how to live it in a way that we capture its purpose – and not just its outward, ritualistic forms of worship.
With these thoughts in mind, the Muslim Students’ Association of the Cape (MSA Cape) recently hosted the 2011 edition of its Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference under the theme “Striking the Balance.”
Conferences like these are important in our society – particularly among the youth – because they give us the chance to have an intense focus, for a few days, on acquiring comprehensive knowledge of our religion and its expectations from us. These events are also unique because they expose attendees to a variety of different viewpoints – speakers from different generations, from different countries, coming from different ideological backgrounds.
This speaker line-up for this year’s conference bears testimony to that. RIS2011 hosted young speakers such as Canada’s Shaykh Navaid Aziz, Durban’s Shaykh Bilal Ismail, and Cape Town’s Moulana Sarfaraaz Hamza; as well as older, more experienced speakers such as Shaykh Fadel Soliman (Egypt) and Shaykh Sa’dullah Khan (South Africa).
The ever-popular Mufti Ismail Menk (Zimbabwe) kicked things off with a topic that pinpointed Islam’s encouragement of striking a balance in life: true Islam is a balance between total lack of belief (atheism) and being so strict in religion that you go beyond the boundaries that are prescribed by Allah.
Mufti Menk gave several analogies that made the very purposes of Islam clear – such as the reasons behind the deen and Shariah. For example, if you have a driving licence, you can drive. But you have to follow the rules of the road – or else there would be chaos. Likewise, Allah has given us this life – but we have to follow the guidance He gave us, or else there would be chaos.
In short, that’s what Islam is: it’s a means of regulating our lives so that we live in harmony – in a way that is balanced and just; and a way that brings us inner contentment, happiness, and success in both this life and the next.
He also spoke of the battle we all face within ourselves. It’s like a seesaw – with obedience to Allah on one side, and obedience to Shaytaan on the other. The more you obey one, the less you obey the other.
Shaykh Bilal Ismail took attendees through a day with the Prophet s.a.w., and gave a powerful talk on gathering provisions – good deeds – for the Hereafter. Using visuals and statistics from the natural world, he effectively showed that to understand the greatness of your Creator, you need to look at the creation around you. We’re often awed by the power of nature – such as the Blue Whale – which is physically huge; or Tsunamis, which can destroy entire towns in seconds. But while we’re often told of the science behind these things, everything ultimately goes back to Allah – the One who created all of it.
His talks emphasised two critical factors for success. One was to serve humanity; and the other was a fast-track to self-purification of the heart (tazkiyyah): regularly make tahajjud salaah. One only needs to research tahajjud further – via ahadeeth and habits of our successful predecessors in Islam – to see how incredibly important it is in spiritual development.
Among the many other topics at RIS 2011 were sessions on marriage, the role and potential of Muslim women, the value of time, and an effective session on social participation by speakers from Muslim Hands and Islamic Relief.
Another highlight was the addresses by conference attendees: a born Muslim, a recent revert, and a non-Muslim all took the stage to express their appreciation for the event – speaking of the positive effects the conference had on them.
Conferences like these serve to inspire attendees and revive their spirituality, but the organizers were very aware that the effects of RIS 2011 needed to last beyond just this weekend. The conference needed to serve as a catalyst for positive change, spiritual growth, and personal commitment to gaining new Islamic knowledge – with all this to continue far beyond the final day of RIS.
The speakers planted seeds in the minds and hearts of attendees – inspiring them to take what they’d heard and apply it in their lives, families, and communities. And the accompanying conference pack included points of reflection that would help attendees take each topic beyond the weekend – into their personal lives for years to come.
RIS 2011 was an amazing, inspiring, and entertaining event. But attendees now need to take personal responsibility for carrying it through into their lives. The question now is: what am I going to do with what I’ve gained from this conference?
The DVD recordings of RIS 2011: Striking the Balance will be available from MSA Cape in June 2011, insha-Allah. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to purchase a copy.